Roosevelt Bandwagon: a band for musicians with busy lives
White Picket Fences – Roosevelt Bandwagon live at the Maverick Festival
Rich Evans has discovered that life demands compromises. With a young family and an “uncool day job” as a teacher of literature, he can’t commit himself to music in the way that he’d like.
“Six or seven years ago I’d have taken this band out on the road and we’d just have forgotten about everything and driven thousands of miles between shows,” says Evans, lead singer and songwriter for the London-based band Roosevelt Bandwagon. “Unfortunately it’s the kind of compromises you have to make. We’re not 21 any more so we do have some responsibilities.”
So when he was creating Roosevelt Bandwagon, Evans decided on a different model. He set the band up as a “collective”, signed up more people than he needed for any one show and kept the band mostly anonymous, in the hope that when the band had a gig, there would always be someone available to play.
“I’ve been in countless bands previously that have for whatever reason imploded or not been able to do shows so I thought that the idea of having a collective where everyone is relatively anonymous means that we can pick and choose people for various gigs,” he says.
“It works for us, and also I quite like the idea of having a mysterious air about the whole thing.”
Though the lineup may change, Evans admits that he plays all the shows. And he writes all the songs. “A collective that’s anonymous is, I guess, another way of saying it’s kind of my band,” he acknowledges.
Evans is an experienced musician and writer – aged 20, supported by Nashville songwriter Buddy Mondlock, he was flown out to the U.S. to make an album of his song. Since then he has toured widely with a number of bands, playing country, Americana and rock and pop. His band The Mariachis released two albums and performed at festivals across Europe. When that ended, Evans formed the Rich Evans Band and put out a couple more albums. “Then I just thought, well, I’m sick of getting hearing loss from gigs and I want to go back to the stuff that I play well.”
The band’s name comes from a group of leftist musicians, poets and writers, including Woody Guthrie, who went on the road in 1944 to support the re-election of Franklin Roosevelt as U.S. president.
“I’m a massive Woody Guthrie fan,” says Evans. “My university thesis – this is really quite geeky – is in the Woody Guthrie archive in New York. He’s one of my heroes, and I thought it summed up the idea of a collective quite nicely as well, and the idea of having a common purpose.”
The band is described as Anglo-Canadian (they have a Canadian cellist). Some of the members are full-time musicians but others, like Evans, have day jobs as well.
Roosevelt Bandwagon’s first album, Jobless Men Keep Going, was released earlier this year and has received strong critical acclaim in the UK Americana community (read the Backroads review here). The CD may be the easiest way to catch the band – despite the extended lineup, they still only play a handful of gigs.
“The not gigging a huge amount is because of family commitments,” says Evans. “But I’m enjoying this band as much if not more than any other musical project I’ve ever been involved with. It suits us, I think.”
Work is underway on the next album, and then Evans is thinking about a concept album he’d like to make with the band.
It’s pretty much a case of playing as much as we can, and just having strict quality control. I’m proud of the work we’ve put out so far and I want to keep that sense going.